Fantastic new children’s book has Raleigh roots

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By trade, Kwame Mbalia is a scientist. He works as a pharmaceutical metrologist, making sure that the equipment on which the drug is made is working properly.

But, from the start, he had another passion: writing. And, this week, Mbalia, who lives in Raleigh with his wife and three children, will celebrate the launch of her first book, “Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky,” a fantasy novel for children ages 8 and up who is published by Rick Riordan Presents. Yes, we’re talking about THAT Rick Riordan, the best-selling author of the Percy Jackson series.

“I felt grateful to Kwame Mbalia for writing this book so that new generations of young readers can grow up with Tristan Strong and learn about the rich stories of West Africa and the African diaspora” Riordan wrote in his Goodreads review of Tristan Strong.. “In a life full of highlights, I have to say helping publish this book is at the top!”

Mbalia will be at Books of Wonder in New York for her book’s official launch on Tuesday. But he’ll be back in Raleigh – at Quail Ridge Books – for a local festival at 7 p.m., Wednesday October 16.

I checked with Mbalia to find out more about him, his book and more. Here is a question / answer:

Go ask mom: You made your career in science, but were you always a writer too? How did it all happen? How long have you been working on this book?

Kwame Mbalia: I have always been a writer. Third year. Fifth year. Eigth year. Poetry, short stories, lost chapters. I have always written. Tristan Strong will be my first novel, and I’ve been working on it for about a year and a half.

GAM: Tell us about your book and its inspiration.

KM: He is about a grieving African American boy who is sucked into a world where African American tales and West African gods are in conflict. But something bad is awakening, and Tristan will have to bridge the gap between his heroes before all is lost.

GAM: There’s a lot of research and work to bring more diverse characters to children’s books, and fantasy is certainly a genre without a ton of diverse characters. What do you like about this genre and why did you want to bring these characters to life (on the page)?

KM: One thing I will say is that the characters and the stories have always been there. As it turns out, the publishing world is taking note (well … and slowly).

As far as fantasy is concerned, it has been my favorite genre for decades. And what are tales, if not fantasies woven from a collective grain of truth? So it was only natural that I continued what other greats like Virginia Hamilton and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. did, which is to continue telling these stories for the next generation.

GAM: Rick Riordan Presents publishes your book. You’ve had great press (including a star-rated Kirkus review!). And you go on a book tour. What is this feeling? How are you doing?

KM: I slowly collapse into a black hole of anxiety.

GAM: What’s the next step for you? Are there more books behind the scenes?

KM: I’m working on the sequel right now! No more shenanigans, no more folk heroes and more Tristan Strong exceeding expectations, one turn at a time.

Go Ask Mom features local parents every Monday.


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